Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Brad ReynoldsBrad Reynolds did graduate work at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) before leaving to study under Ken Wilber for a decade, and published two books reviewing Wilber's work: Embracing Reality: The Integral Vision of Ken Wilber (Tarcher, 2004), Where's Wilber At?: Ken Wilber's Integral Vision in the New Millennium (Paragon House, 2006) and God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom: Guru Yoga-Satsang in the Integral Age (Bright Alliance, 2021). Visit:


Thus Spake Wilber

(on Evolution)

Brad Reynolds

Below is a series of quotes from Ken Wilber showing that the simplified and mostly inaccurate view of evolution and Spirit-in-action often posted on this website as representing Wilber's views are not entirely up to speed in showing Ken's sophisticated version of how he sees both evolution and “Spirit”—or “Eros”—or the Divine Reality in which the evolutionary process, on all levels, is arising. Notice that for Wilber and people who see or understand “evolution” as being ultimately a spiritual process, not merely a materialistic or biological one, it is reductionistic to collapse this view into mere scientific terms or explanations.

Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber

This is why, in this case, Wilber also places a great emphasis on your own personal development. He suggests that you use (or access) not only your physical eyes and take measurements (in the objective world), nor just use logic and reason (in the subjective domain), but he encourages everyone to enact the injunctions—do the yoga!—and transcend the limits of objective and subjective understanding to awaken to an authentic Spiritual Vision of the universe or Kosmos as a whole. In harmony with the Sages of the past and present, only this “evolution” of consciousness or developmental (and “sudden”) process of Enlightenment will truly make a person feel free, transcending the limited views of the solitary ego-I, and be happy in the heart while marveling at the incredible Good, Truth, and Beauty that arises in and as and all around us. THAT is Spirit-in-action, God-in-the-making! If you don't see it that way, that's fine, but please do not distort Ken Wilber's view so you can feel more comfortable with the one you prefer.

Enjoy the refreshment course from the words of the Master-Pandit himself:

“Since evolution is one of the crucial ingredients—some would say the crucial ingredient—of the modern scientific worldview, and if we truly wish an integral embrace of premodern, modern, and postmodern, then we need a way to put the theory of evolution in a context that both honors its truths and curtails its abuses.” (Integral Psychology, 149)
“The ultimate aim of evolution—the movement from the lower to the higher—is to awaken as Atman, and thus retain the glory of creation without being forced to act in the drama of self-suffering.” (Eye to Eye, 131; Holographic Paradigm, 162)
“Development—or evolution—consists of a series of hierarchical transformations or unfoldings of the deep structures out of the ground-unconscious, starting with the lowest (pleroma and body), and ending with the highest (God and Void). When—and if—all of the ground-unconscious has emerged, then there is only consciousness: all is conscious as the All. As Aristotle put it, when all potential has been actualized, the result is God.” (Atman Project, 83)
“Development is evolution; evolution is transcendence.” (Atman Project, ix)
“Evolution, we have amply seen, is not predictable, only reconstructable.” (SES, 191)
“Evolution is first and foremost a series of transformations ('self-realization through self-transcendence'). Transformation is how you get levels in the first place. And each major transformation produces greater depth, and less span, in relation to its previous level(s), in relation to its predecessors.” (SES, 61)
“If you had to pick two of the philosophers who, after Plato, had the broadest impact on the Western mind, they very well might be Plotinus and then Schelling. For this reason alone: Plotinus gave the Great Holarchy its fullest expression, and Schelling set the Great Holarchy afloat in developmental time, in evolution. And if there is one idea that dominates the modern and postmodern mind at large, it is evolution.” (Brief History, 300)
“That was Hegel's and Aurobindo's and Teilhard de Chardin message; evolution is moving through the links in the Great Chain of Being—starting with the lowest, or matter, and moving to biological structures, then to mind, then subtle and causal realms, and finally to supermind or omega point.” (Eye to Eye, 160)
“The archbattle in the universe is always: evolution versus egocentrism. The evolutionary drive to produce greater depth is synonymous with the drive to overcome egocentrism, to find wider and deeper wholes, to unfold greater and greater unions.” (Brief History, 180)
“It is true that, in individuals, spirit can awaken as spirit ('spirit as spirit,' traditional enlightenment). And it is true that this is, in some important ways, a developmental or evolutionary process. That is, certain developments clear the way for this timeless realization: both humans and rocks are equally spirit, but only humans can consciously realize that fact, and between the rock and the human lies evolution.” (Eye of Spirit, 279)
“The whole point of evolution: it always goes beyond what went before…. Evolution always transcends and includes, incorporates and goes beyond.” (Brief History, 5-6)
“Evolution is a wildly self-transcending process: it has the utterly amazing capacity to go beyond what went before. So evolution is in part a process of transcendence, which incorporates what went before and then adds incredibly novel components. The drive to self-transcendence is thus built into the very fabric of the Kosmos itself.” (Brief History, 23)
“Evolution is both God and Goddess, transcendence and immanence. It is immanent in the process itself, woven into the very fabric of the Kosmos; but it everywhere transcends its own productions, and brings forth anew in every moment.” (Brief History, 42)
“Evolution requires both differentiation and integration together…” (SES, 71)
“Evolution is not bigger and better, but smaller and better (greater depth, less span).” (SES, 58)
“If you look at every stage in evolution, what you find is that—this has been pointed out often—each higher stage is synergistic to its junior components; it includes them but is more than them…. We would also expect spiritual processes to leave their footprints in the biophysical substrate, either directly or via the mind. But in no case could mind or spirit be reduced to the brain or explained entirely or merely by brain physiology…. Mind transcends but includes physiology, and the truths of the former cannot be entirely contained in the truths of the latter…. I think the same thing will hold true of any psychospiritual correlates we can find in the biophysical substrate…. This theory allows us to look for correlations of the higher in the lower without having to reduce the higher to the lower.” (Eye to Eye, 182-185)
“The continuous process of self-transcendence produces discontinuities, leaps, creative jumps. So there are both discontinuities in evolution—mind cannot be reduced to life, and life cannot be reduced to matter—and there are continuities—the common patterns that evolution takes in all these domains. And in that sense, yes, the Kosmos hangs together, unified by a single process. It is a uni-verse, one song.” (Brief History, 24)
“Evolution, in the broadest sense, is a sensitive flight from the pain of partiality.” (SES, 311)
“The essential point is that evolution on the whole appears in humans as psychological development and growth—the same 'force' [Eros] that produced humans from amoebas produces adults from infants and civilizations from barbarism.” (Eden, 305)
“It seems to be general fact that each stage of evolution goes beyond its predecessors but must nevertheless include and integrate them into its own higher order. As Hegel would put it, 'To supersede is at once to negate and preserve.' That is, each stage of evolution transcends but includes its predecessors. Thus, early life forms (plants) went beyond but included lifeless matter and minerals in their makeup; and animals went beyond plant forms (simple life) but included life in their makeup. Just so, humans go beyond but include animal characteristics, and, by implication, humans include but transcend all prior evolutionary stages.” (Eden, 21-22)
“In the biosphere Darwin (and many others) noticed that there is also a crucial time's arrow. Evolution is irreversible. We may see amoebas eventually evolve into apes, but we never see apes turn into amoebas. That is, evolution proceeds irreversibly in the direction of increasing differentiation/integration, increasing structural organization, and increasing complexity. It goes from less ordered to more ordered.” (SES, 11)
“Spirit has evolved the vehicle for its own self realization. Because Spirit is involved with and as this world, this world evolves with and as Spirit, to the point that Spirit superconsciously realizes its own Original Face. The possibility of that realization is a product of Spirit's own evolutionary unfolding, and in that sense, this realization has a very strong developmental aspect. But it is not the whole story. Evolution occurs in the world of time and space and form, whereas Spirit's primordial nature is finally timeless and Formless, prior to the world of evolution but not other to it. We do not find Spirit or Emptiness by reaching some evolutionary Omega point in time, but rather by stepping off the cycle of time and evolution altogether (or ceasing to contract into it).” (Brief History, 279-280)
“The general developmental-evolutionary view holds that in the world of maya all things exist in time; since the world of time is the world of flux, all things in this world are in constant change; change implies some sort of difference from state to state, that is, some sort of development; thus all things in this world can only be conceived as ones that have developed. The development may be forward, backward, or stationary, but it is never entirely absent. In short, all phenomena develop, and thus true phenomenology is always evolutionary, dynamic, or developmental… Many philosophers and psychologists, looking at this evolutionary course, have concluded that not only can phenomena be best understood as ones that have developed, but that development itself is heading towards noumenon [Spirit].” (Eye to Eye, 216-217)
“Evolution is a successive shift and unfolding, via transformation, of higher-order deep structures, within which operate, via translation, higher-order surface structures.” (Eden, 73)
“Evolution seeks only this Formless summum bonum—it wants only this ultimate Omega—it rushes forward always and solely in search of this—and it will never find it, because evolution unfolds in the world of form. The Kosmos is driven forward endlessly, searching in the world of time for that which is altogether timeless. And since it will never find it, it will never cease the search. Samsara circles endlessly, and that is always the brutal nightmare hidden in the heart.” (SES, 316)
“The increasing growth and evolution of consciousness also brings many difficulties and potential conflicts. For evolution—on the Outward as well as the Inward Arc—is marked by a hierarchical series of emergent structures, running in general from the lower to the higher, and each newly-emergent structure has to be integrated and consolidated with its predecessors—a task of no easy proportions. Not only can the higher structures tend to repress the lower ones, the lower structures can rebelliously disrupt and overwhelm the higher ones.” (Atman, 25)
“The evolution of consciousness itself, from the lowest to the highest stages, the spiritual or transpersonal stages… are the stages of the inward I, on its way to the supreme identity. From subconscious to self-conscious to superconscious—Spirit's own unfolding, the extraordinary arc of consciousness evolution, a flight of the alone to the Alone.” (Brief History, 137)
“The more evolved the soul is, the less involved it is (i.e., the less it forgets its higher source and suchness), and this continues until radical Enlightenment, whereupon the soul is completely subsumed or superseded (negated and preserved) in prior Unborn Spirit or radical Emptiness, which is simply the luminous transparency of this and every moment.” (Eye of Spirit, 180)
“Maybe the evolutionary sequence really is from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit, each transcending and including, each with a greater depth and greater consciousness and wider embrace. And in the highest reaches of evolution, maybe, just maybe, an individual's consciousness does indeed touch infinity—a total embrace of the entire Kosmos —a Kosmic consciousness that is Spirit awakened to its own true nature.” (Brief History, 42)
“To Return to Source it is not necessary to destroy and annihilate the lower levels. It is necessary only to transcend them, to cease identifying exclusively with them. Each higher level, in fact, must transcend yet include each lower level in its higher-order unity and synthesis (remembrance)…. In true and unobstructed evolution, we take all the lower levels with us, out of love and compassion, so that all levels eventually are reconnected to Source. To negate everything is to preserve everything; to transcend all is to include all. We must go whole-bodily to God; failing that, we fall into dissociation, repression, inner fragmentation. Ultimate transcendence is thus not ultimate annihilation of the levels of creation, but rather their ultimate inclusion in Spirit. The final transcendence is the final embrace. Thus, at ultimate enlightenment or return to Spirit, the created world can still exist; it just no longer obscures Spirit, but serves it. All the levels remain as expressions of Atman, not substitutes for Atman.” (Eden, 310-311)
“Psychological development in humans has the same goal as natural evolution: the production of ever-higher unities. And since the ultimate Unity is Buddha, God, or Atman (to use those terms in their broadest sense as 'ultimate reality'), it follows that psychological growth aims at Atman. And that is part of what we call the Atman-project.” (Atman Project, 100)
“In short, the more consciousness grows and evolves, the more it grows beyond the narrow bounds of the personal ego, the more it touches the transpersonal and universal Divine.” (Eye to Eye, 209)
“As I said, central to all genuine spiritual and mystical traditions is that the absolute, the universal, the very Divine itself, is contacted only when the individual's separate self or ego is transcended. The child develops from instinct to ego; the adult develops and expands the ego; the mystic goes beyond the individual ego to the universal itself—an overall movement or evolution from subconscious to self-conscious to superconscious.” (Eye to Eye, 210)
“Spirit is not merely or even especially the summit of the scale of evolution, or some sort of Divine omega point (although that is part of the story). Spirit is pre-eminently the empty Ground, or groundless Emptiness, fully present at each and every stage of evolution, as the openness in which the particular stage unfolds, as well as the substance of that which is unfolded. Spirit transcends and includes the world: transcends, in the sense that it is prior to the world, prior to the Big Bang, prior to any manifestation; includes, in the sense that the world is not other to Spirit, form is not other to Emptiness. Manifestation is not 'apart from' Spirit but an activity of Spirit: the evolving Kosmos is Spirit-in-action.” (SES, 583, 1n)
“We wish to get from where Spirit is not, to where Spirit is. But there is no place where Spirit is not. Every single location in the entire Kosmos is equally and fully Spirit. Seeking of any sort, movement of any sort, attainment of any sort: all profoundly useless. The Great Search simply reinforces the mistaken assumption that there is some place that Spirit is not, and that I need to get from that space that is lacking to a space that is full. But there is no space lacking, and there is no space more full. There is only Spirit.” (Eye of Spirit, 282)
“Just as all of the lower is in the higher but not all the higher is in the lower (but rather 'permeates' the lower), so all of nature is in Spirit but not all of Spirit is to be found in nature. Rather, Spirit permeates nature through and through, itself remaining behind nature, beyond nature, not confined to nature and not identified with nature, but never, at any point, divorced from nature or set apart from nature.” (SES, 289)
“Each level transcends and includes its predecessor. Spirit transcends all, so it includes all. It is utterly beyond this world, but utterly embraces every single holon in this world. It permeates all of manifestation but is not merely manifestation. It is ever-present at every level or dimension, but is not merely a particular level or dimension. Transcends all, includes all, as the groundless Ground or Emptiness of all manifestation.” (Brief History, 38)
“Spirit is thus both the very highest wave (purely transcendental) and the ever-present ground of all the waves (purely immanent), going beyond All, embracing All. The Great Nest is a multidimensional latticework of love—Eros, Agape, Karuna, Maitri—call it what you will, it leaves no corner of the Kosmos untouched by care nor alien to the mysteries of grace. That point is as important as it is constantly being forgotten—Spirit is fully transcendent and fully immanent. If we are to try to conceptualize Spirit at all, we should at least try to respect both points.” (Integral Psychology, 8)
“When Spirit is de-mythologized, it can be approached as Spirit, in its Absolute Suchness (tathata), and not as a Cosmic Parent.” (Sociable God, 79)
“Spirit is the summit of being, the highest rung on the ladder of evolution. But it is also true that Spirit is the wood out of which the entire ladder and all its rungs are made. Spirit is the suchness, the isness, the essence of each and every thing that exists.” (Eye of Spirit, 44)
“Spirit manifests as the entire world in a series of increasingly holistic and holarchic spheres, stretching from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit itself. But all of these different dimensions are actually just forms of spirit, in various degrees of self-realization and self-actualization. Thus, there is really spirit-as-matter, spirit-as-prana, spirit-as-mind, spirit-as-soul, and spirit-as-spirit.” (Eye of Spirit, 157)
“With the eye of Spirit, God can be seen. With the eye of Spirit, the universe unfolds its innermost contours. With the eye of Spirit, noumenon announces its pure Presence. With the eye of Spirit, the Kosmos delivers its deepest secrets. And with the eye of Spirit, the intractable nightmares of the sensory and mental dilemmas yield to the radiance of Emptiness itself.” (Eye of Spirit, 94)
“The Good, the True, and the Beautiful are simply the faces of Spirit as it shines in this world. Spirit seen subjectively is Beauty, the I of Spirit. Spirit seen intersubjectively is the Good, the We of Spirit. And Spirit seen objectively is the True, the It of Spirit.” (Sense & Soul, 201)
“Spirit is indeed nonrational; but it is trans, not pre. It transcends but includes reason; it does not regress and exclude it.” (SES, 207)
“I believe we can begin to reunite humanity with the rest of the Kosmos, and not be saddled with a truly bizarre and rigid dualism: humanity over here, everything else over there. No, it seems that we are part and parcel of a single and all-encompassing evolutionary current that is itself Spirit-in-action, the mode and manner of Spirit's creation. The same currents that run through our human blood run through swirling galaxies and colossal solar systems, crash through the great oceans and course throughout the cosmos, move the mightiest of mountains as well as our own moral aspirations—one and same current moves throughout the All, and drives the entire Kosmos in its every lasting gesture, an extraordinary morphogenetic field that exerts a pull and pressure which refuses to surrender until you remember who and what you are, and that you were carried to this realization by that single current of an all-pervading Love, and here 'there came fulfillment in a flash of light, and vigor failed the lofty fantasy, but now my will and my desires were moved like a wheel revolving evenly, by the Love [Eros] that moves the sun and other stars.' [Dante]” (Integral Psychology, 153)
“We—and all beings as such—are drenched in this meaning, afloat in a current of care and profound value, ultimate significance, intrinsic awareness. We are part and parcel of this immense intelligence, this Spirit-in-action, this God-in-the-making. We don't have to think of God as some mythic figure outside of the display, running the show. Nor must we picture it as some merely immanent Goddess, lost in the forms of her own production. Evolution is both God and Goddess, transcendence and immanence. It is immanent in the process itself, woven into the very fabric of the Kosmos; but it everywhere transcends its own productions, and brings forth anew in every moment.” (Brief History, 42)
“Because the universe has direction, we ourselves have direction. There is meaning in the movement, intrinsic value in the embrace. As Emerson put it, we lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which by any other name is Spirit. There is a theme inscribed on the original face of the Kosmos. There is a pattern written on the wall of Nothingness. There is a meaning in its every gesture, a grace in its every glance…. And we are invited, I believe, to awaken as this process. The very Spirit in us is invited to become self-conscious, or even, as some would say, superconscious” (Brief History, 42)

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